More aid needed for Mali's hidden emergency, urge Guterres and U.S.

News Stories, 2 August 2012

© UNHCR/H.Caux
UNHCR chief António Guterres visits Malian refugees in Damba camp, Burkina Faso together with Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration at the United States Department of State.

DAMBA CAMP, Burkina Faso, August 2 (UNHCR) UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres has called for countries to increase their support to the severely-underfunded Malian refugee operation in a region that can barely feed its own people.

The High Commissioner made the appeal during his three-day visit to Burkina Faso, which hosts 107,000 Malian refugees, the highest number in the region. On Wednesday he travelled to Damba camp in northern Burkina Faso with Anne C. Richard, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM) in United States, to attract attention to one of the world's most hidden humanitarian and refugee emergencies.

More a quarter of a million people have fled Mali in the last six months as fighting erupted between government forces, Tuareg rebels and various armed groups. In addition to the refugees in Burkina Faso, there are also 96,000 in Mauritania and 53,000 in Niger. Another 174,000 are internally displaced within Mali.

"We have now 257,000 refugees from Mali who are going through an enormous level of suffering and deprivation," said Guterres in Damba camp, home to some 1,200 Malian refugees. "They had to cross the borders of very poor countries that have very dramatic food security problems: Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. They found a fantastic generosity in their host countries that are sharing everything they have with them, but they did not find until now the attention of the international community. We, the aid agencies, are struggling to provide them with basic needs in water, food, sanitation and health."

Half a year into the Malian conflict, UNHCR is still struggling with a severe lack of funding. Despite a recent US$10 million donation from the United States and contributions from other donors, the refugee agency has only received US$ 49.9 million out of the US$153 million needed to help Malian refugees and the internally displaced.

"My appeal to the international community is for them to show the Malian refugees, as well as the Governments of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania, the exact same level of solidarity that these Governments have been showing to the Malian refugees," said BPRM's Richard. "There are a lot of other crises around the world, so I think people get fatigued and tired of hearing about crises. But we know that a little help can go a long way. So we hope that we can bring more donors to learn about this situation and to take positive actions."

In Damba camp, Guterres and Richard visited the registration centre where a UNHCR team has been registering and collecting detailed information on the profile and actual number of refugees in official sites. This information will enable UNHCR to provide adequate assistance to the refugees according to their needs. The registration is scheduled to take place in all official sites in Burkina Faso for the next few weeks.

Refugees in Damba receive 14.5 litres per person per day, thanks to two boreholes dug by UNHCR and water bladders managed by Oxfam. Refugees and the local population can also use the health centre run by Médecins du Monde. Malaria, respiratory infections and intestinal parasites are the most common ailments.

Most of the camp's refugees left Gossi town in northern Mali in anticipation of attacks. Recent arrivals say that the emergence of new extremist armed groups in northern Mali since March is pushing more and more people to leave their homes.

Oumey, 25, arrived in Damba camp on July 20 after walking for two weeks. "Fear pushed me to leave my home," he told Guterres and Richard in his tent. "I saw people being killed in front of me when Gossi was taken over by armed groups at the end of June. I did not want to wait for my turn."

His guests also met with Raichatou, a 62-year-old grandmother who fled Mali with 13 members of her family including her mentally handicapped son. They walked for two weeks with a donkey, some water and little food. Out of the 430 goats they brought with them, only 30 survive the long journey. The rest died of dehydration.

"We left because everybody around us was leaving their villages. We panicked. We had news that main cities were being taken over by armed groups," said Raichatou. She now feels safe in Burkina Faso and does not want to return to Mali unless peace prevails again.

Guterres stressed the difficulties faced by UNHCR and other aid agencies in helping these refugees. "When you have over 250,000 people in semi-desert areas of landlocked countries, with huge logistic problems, and when those countries themselves are facing exceptional challenges, not only in relation to development but also in their capacity to feed their own people, it is obvious that all the resources that we can find are not yet in proportion with the needs we face," he said. "That is why I hope that the attention of the international community will be more focused on the Mali situation."

Guterres and Richard are scheduled to meet with Burkina Be officials including the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs on Thursday in the country's capital Ouagadougou. They will also meet with other UN agencies and non-governmental partners to discuss the Mali refugee emergency, the humanitarian situation in Mali and the repercussions on neighbouring countries.

By Hélène Caux, in Damba camp and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Mali Crisis: Urgent Appeal

More than 300,000 Malians have been forced to abandon homes in the hope of finding safety. Help us protect them.

Donate to this crisis

Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Barbara Hendricks visits Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks met with Malian refugees in Damba Camp on July 6, 2012, in northern Burkina Faso. The acclaimed soprano is using the visit to highlight the plight of tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from conflict in their country this year and are living in camps or settlements in neighbouring countries. As of early July, more than 198,000 Malians had fled to Mauritania (88,825), Burkina Faso (65,009) and Niger (44,987). At least 160,000 were estimated to be displaced within Mali, most in the north.

Barbara Hendricks visits Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Thousands of Malian families have arrived in Niger since mid-January, fleeing fighting between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces in northern Mali. Refugees are living in makeshift settlements along the border, exposed to the sun and wind by day, and cold at night. UNHCR has started distributing relief assistance and is planning to open camps in safer areas further away from the border. UNHCR's Helene Caux met with some the refugees who all expressed their desire to return to their country once peace prevails.

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Harsh life for Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Some 3,900 Malian refugees are living in Damba camp in northern Burkina Faso. They left their homes in Gossi and Gao in northern Mali to escape fighting between rebel Tuareg movement and the Malian army as well as threats posed by criminal gangs and Islamist groups. Several families have recently arrived in the camp, worried that an attack on Gao in June will spill over to other towns. Life is harsh in the camp and UNHCR urgently needs fresh funds to ensure life-saving assistance for this silent humanitarian crisis.

More than 380,000 Malians have been forced to flee their homes this year. Over 65,000 of them have found refuge in Burkina Faso. And this comes at a time when the countries in the Sahel region are suffering from drought and food shortfalls.

Harsh life for Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Mauritania: Mali Elections In Mauritania Play video

Mauritania: Mali Elections In Mauritania

Hundreds of Malian refugees voted in exile at the weekend in the presidential election in their home country, way down on the numbers eligible to cast a ballot.
Burkina Faso: Election Sunday Play video

Burkina Faso: Election Sunday

Hundreds of Malian refugees voted in exile at the weekend in the presidential election in their home country, way down on the numbers eligible to cast a ballot.
Mali: Going Back Home Play video

Mali: Going Back Home

A trickle of displaced Malians undertake the journey back to their towns and villages.